While I love, love, love Melissa Karnaze’s Copyblogger post on how to make Writer’s Block a “Secret Weapon,” there’s like 5% 0f the time when what she describes as writer’s block isn’t quite what I experience.
Her premise: if you’re having trouble saying it, you probably aren’t all that clear on what you want to say.
But what if you know what you want to say, but you’re gooning up the emotion? What if you need a scalpel and your pen feels like a chainsaw?
Well, even though the following may not make any sense, it always works for me:
- Go visit PostSecret.
- Read through the secrets till you find 2–3 really juicy ones. Not juicy as in particularly lurid, but as in wince inducing. Your heart should go out to the person. Or there should be a “pucker factor” in reading their secret.
- Now that you have a few of those, pick one and start imagining the person who wrote it. Create a character, backstory, etc.
- Spend about 10 minutes writing the first several paragraphs or page of a short story that starts with the Post Secret statement and that centers around your character. Make sure to set a timer of some sort.
When the timer goes off you’ll be on the other side of the world from the emotional and mental state you started in. And the borrowed wings of your narrative will fly with you when you go back to writing your copy.
* Special thanks to Holly Buchanan for introducing me to Post Secret
Regardless of how reasonable it is or isn’t, we instinctively attempt to confirm a “brand promise” of attention to detail in the kitchen by looking for evidence of it throughout the rest of the restaurant.
We believe in internal consistency - a belief that’s hardly limited to restaurants.
Clean Bathrooms and Your Website’s UVP
“where should the Unique Value Proposition go on my Website?”
People often ask me that, and — with the clean bathroom theory firmly in mind — I usually reply with a question of my own: “where does the chorus or refrain go in a song?”
Sometimes it comes off as a bit of a non-sequitur, but a little guided discovery quickly establishes the following points about song refrains:
- The refrain carries the theme of the song. Even when you can’t remember the name of the song, you’ll usually recall the refrain, because that’s the heart of the song
- The rest of the song fleshes out, substantiates, and supports the refrain. The stanzas and the refrain are intimately connected.
- The refrain is repeated over and over, and in the best songs, each repetition gains meaning and emotional weight from the stanzas that preceded it.
To see how this works online, simply substitute “UVP” for “refrain” and “Website” for “song” and here’s what you get:
- The UVP carries the theme of the Website. In other words the reason visitors would want to do business with you should lie at the heart of your online messaging. If it’s not, you’re spending too much time talking about what you want to talk about rather than what’s important to the customer.
- The rest of the Website should flesh out, substantiate, and support your UVP. People will look to see if you back-up what you claim. If the rest of your site doesn’t jibe with the UVP, you’ll lose credibility and, ultimately, lose the sale.
- The UVP is repeated over and over (though not verbatim or in entirety) from different angles or perspectives, such that the claims and promises gain weight, credibility, and emotional resonance with each click or page.
The Bottom Line:
Treating your UVP as a song refrain helps to insure internal consistency
It forces you to check your own site for clean bathrooms. So when visitors look to corroborate your claims by cross referencing the various elements and pages of your Website, they’ll become increasingly reassured and confident with each click.
For example, if you are a local contractor specializing in completing basement renovations and garage enclosures in half the time of traditional contractors, your Web visitors will expect to see your claimed specialty and value proposition reflected in your:
- prior work history,
- gallery of projects,
- testimonials, etc.
If each of those elements speaks to your specialized focus and your half-the-time claims, you’ll win a lot more leads. If they don’t support your UVP, your visitors will likely go elsewhere for their renovations.
Also, if you claim to only hire the best, expect a fair amount of prospective customers clicking through your employment pages to see what your REAL standards of employment are. And you better have “clean bathrooms” because this ain’t theory, I’ve sat and watched visitors do exactly that via analytics and services such as Click Tales, OnTarget, and Tea Leaf.
A Videocast Full of Great “Clean Bathroom” Specifics for Websites
So go take a fresh look at your Website and ask yourself:
- Have you woven a refrain throughout your Website’s messaging?
- How does each page of your site work to substantiate and corroborate your main claims/UVP?
Are you and your staff asking that of your prospective customers? Do your surveys ask the same thing?
While your intent is admirable, your phrasing just might be hampering sales, and I’d like to suggest a far more effective variation.
But to understand the power of the variation, you have to understand what’s wrong with the question you’re currently asking.
The Magic of Word Association
It comes down to word associations. Our associations — our emotional reactions to words — often have very little to do with a word’s dry definitions. Take “discriminate.” Are the host of emotions and mental images evoked by that word explained by the dictionary definition: to note a difference; to make a distinction?
So, what are the associations behind the phrasing: “Do you have any question?”
Well, let’s skip to the word “question” itself. A question is usually imagined as fully-formed, well-articulated, and for the most part, direct. And emotionally speaking, asking a question is often felt as revealing or implying ignorance or weakness. And then there’s the presupposition of the “Do you” part of your phrasing, which assumes the prospect may not have any questions.
Ask me if I have any questions and chances are I’ll say, “no.” I probably haven’t formulated my thoughts yet, and quite frankly, I don’t want to sound like a bozo in front of the sales staff. “No” is safe. I like safe; I’d bet most of your prospects feel the same way, too.
How to take the negative associations away from asking a question
But what if you ask me about my CONCERNS? Ahhhh. Now I have permission to be vague, to take my time…and to not feel like I’m admitting ignorance.
If I’m expressing concerns (rather an asking a question), I can tell you about emotional things like doubts.
Did you think wordsmithing was only important to your advertising copy? Is your sales team hearing “No” more often than you’d prefer? Try a little wordsmithing; have them ask, “So what are your concerns?”
Applications to Online Copywriting
And if you’re reading this as a copywriter, ask yourself this:
Are you expecting visitors to use formal navigation in order to arrive at your question-answering content?
Or are you anticipating the associational flow of the conversation and supplying embedded links and embedded page elements like videos, testimonials, and pictures that would allow visitors to quickly drill down on areas of concern without having to explicitly acknowledge and consciously think about those concerns?
Does your copy address concerns, or just answer questions?
Sometimes an audience’s resistance to buying has nothing to do with intellectual uncertainty. They understand What’s In It for Them and they “get” the logical arguments, but they’re still not persuaded to act.
In these cases, audience doubt can sometimes stem from an emotional confusion. The facts may support your claim, but those facts clash with the reader’s known reality. This is when you need a (predominantly) emotional message, rather than an intellectual one.
- Intellectual ads present the audience with new information
- Emotional ads cause the audience to feel differently about information they already know.
Emotional ads work their magic by reconciling your claims to the audience’s self-image and world-view, evaporating emotional uncertainty in the process and leaving your audience ready to act.
The Wizard of Ads Saves Christmas w/ an Emotion-Driven Ad
Roy Williams’ ad for Heisenberg’s Jewelers masterfully demonstrates how to write this kind of emotional ad. Before looking at the ad itself, here’s a little background on the emotional conflict Roy had to overcome:
Heisenberg’s Jewelers had been in the same building on Main Street in Cabbage Valley for 105 years. A facelift 7 years earlier had given the store white carpet, walnut paneling and a huge chandelier in a high, domed ceiling. Heisenberg’s was the Sistine Chapel of jewelry stores. Not a problem, except that Cabbage Valley is the turnip capital of the world, a little farming community of about 45,000 people. Even the wealthiest of Cabbage Valley’s farmers felt they weren’t dressed well enough to enter that store. Heisenberg’s was truly an intimidating place.
Now imagine your goal is to get these farmers to come in and buy jewelry. What you’re facing is NOT a lack of knowledge or insight: everybody in town knows that Heidelberg’s is THE premier jewelry store in town. An intellectual perspective would be suicide.
What you’re up against is a clash of images. The farmer already has an image of who he is, and it’s one that involves coveralls, honest work, and maybe a little dirt. In other words, an image that’s in direct conflict with the idea of walking into the ritziest store in town.
So, Roy re-framed the farmer’s self-image and made it 100% congruent with the act of walking into the Sistine Chapel of jewelry stores. In fact, he made walking into that store an absolute must for the farmer who wished to keep his self-image intact. Here’s the ad:
“Ladies, many of you will be fortunate enough this Christmas to find a small, but beautifully wrapped package under your tree bearing a simple gold seal that says ‘Heisenberg’s.’ Now you and I both know there’s jewelry in the box. But the man who put it there for you is trying desperately to tell you that you are more precious than diamonds, more valuable than gold, and very, very special. You see, he could have gone to a department store and bought department store jewelry, or picked up something at the mall like all the other husbands. But the men who come to Heisenberg’s aren’t trying to get off cheap or easy. Men who come to Heisenberg’s believe their wives deserve the best. And whether they spend 99 dollars or 99 hundred, the message is the same: Men who come to Heisenberg’s are still very much in love… We just thought you should know.”
See what I’m talking about? Rather than thinking, “I’m a farmer and not really dressed to walk into such a ritzy store,” the ad caused men to think “I’m a devoted husband (who doesn’t want to be sleeping in the dog house come Christmas)”
Don’t Mess with Texas: the power of an emotion-driven campaign
Texas had a litter problem — and it wasn’t caused by Austin environmentalists driving around in their Volvos. Nor was it caused by people who “didn’t know any better.” Texas surmised that their litter problem was caused by citizens who felt that a modern sensitivity to litter was a little too mamby-pamby-ish for them. It conflicted with their self-image.
In other words, the self-image of these truck-driving, young men was one inspired by strong independence, anti-authoratarianism, a rejection of anything too “Politically Correct,” AND a very strong self-identity as Texans.
So the Ad agency elected NOT to run a typical PSA presenting new facts about the damage litter causes. Instead, they re-framed concern for litter from a pro-environmental concern to a Pro-Texas Concern.
Not littering was positioned as a matter of Texas-pride, where manly-man, undeniably Texan celebrities came out against littering, saying “Don’t mess with Texas.”
The “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign reconciled the conflicting images, and the incidence of roadside litter decreased 72% between 1986 and 1990.
A 4-step process for creating emotional messaging:
1. Find the source of your prospects cognitive dissonance. In order to do this, you have to see your customer real. To see them real, it helps to contextualize their need for your product within the entire scope of their lives and self-image. Fully modeling your audience allows you greater insight into how they see themselves and what their preconceptions and concerns actually are.
2. Find a product or sales image that reaffirms that preconception. That’s right, reaffirms. Pointing out the limits within which the reader’s understanding holds true and pointing out the limits beyond which they are false are both exercises in defining limits. But the emotional distance between the two approaches separates success from failure.
So tell them how their conception of things is right, then show your proposed action to be consonant with that conception. Or, at the least, show them the limits within which their conception is right, while also gently pointing out what happens beyond those limits.
If you really want to convince a kid that fluids move faster through a narrowing (a la the bernoulli’s principle), acknowledging that toothpaste doesn’t work that way (and explaining why) makes things a lot easier. Similarly, Roy’s ad reconfirms the idea that Hiesenberg’s is an uncomfortable place to shop, and the Don’t Mess with Texas ads reconfirmed the “cowboy” image of its target audience.
3. Now, introduce a new mental image that re-frames your message & reconciles the prospects self-image with the action you want them to take. Roy introduces a new self-image for the farmer’s in his audience: that of a faithful and loving husband. The State of Texas introduced a new mental image for the “bubbas” watching the TV campaign: that of a Texan’s Texan taking litter as an assault on Texas-pride. Both images re-framed how the audience felt about the proposed action, whether that action was walking into a scary-expensive jewelry store or refraining from littering.
4. Make sure your new image already fits the audience’s self-image or mental model. If you want full conviction from your readers, you’ll have to leave them feeling as though this new way of looking at things is really a confirmation of what they’ve truly believed all along.
You can’t convince farmers that they aren’t farmers or that they’re really sophisticated suburbanites. You have to pick a self-image that they are already comfortable with, like that of a devoted husband. And you can’t convince bubba the cowboy that he’s really a crunchy granola type. But you can convince him that cowbows have always respected and protected their own land.
[Emotioneering is a trademarked word coined by Hollywood screenwriting and video game guru David Freeman. I’ve co-taught with David on a few occasions and can’t recommend his material highly enough, especially his book, Creating Emotion in Games.]
The needle measures the emotional stakes raised by your messaging, as perceived by your audience. If you don’t address, reference, or touch upon what’s at stake, little else matters.
Getting in shape or getting stronger may be a product benefit for an exercise program, but that’s not what’s at stake for the prospective customer. In order to understand what’s at stake, you have to contextualize the desire for the product within the life of the prospect.
What A Charles Atlas Ad Can Teach You About Moving the Needle
A perfect example of contextualizing desire is the classic Charles Atlas ads created by Charles P. Roman. Getting publicly humiliated in front of your girlfriend while she watches a bully kick sand in your face puts a completely different spin on “working out” than heart-health and longevity doesn’t it?
Now we know what’s at stake: the prospect’s manhood. Hence the power of the famous headline: “The Insult that Made a Man Out of Mac”
Do you see how much more emotionally galvanizing that headline is compared to a garden-variety pitch about the strength building benefits of “dynamic tension” workouts?
This old comic book ad is a wonderful example not only because of the searing mental imagery, but because it provides the first secret key:
Key #1 — The stakes are always about the customer’s self-identity; will he maintain and grow his self-image/ego or will he suffer in the face of adverse reality?
And the second secret key follows on from the first one, because if what’s at stake is the customer’s self image, then:
Key # 2 — The hero of the ad has to be the customer, not the product
Think about that Charles Atlas Ad again: who ended up kicking butt? Mac — the thinly veiled stand-in for the reader — was the star of the ad; he was the one who transformed himself from a 97-pound weakling into a muscle-laden stud — the product just helped him get there.
Back when Charles P. Roman penned his first Atlas Ad, there were any number of muscle men selling courses by mail order, guys like Joe Bonomo. If that name doesn’t ring any bells for you, and you can’t recall any of the others off the top of you head, it’s largely because the other guys either made themselves or their products the star of their ads. The Atlas Ads made the customer the hero and they’re still selling courses to this day!
Want to move the needle?
- Speak to customer emotions stemming from self-image. Contextualize the desire in terms of common scenarios. Understand what’s really at stake.
- The feature might be an easy, learn-at-your-own-pace musical instrument course
- The benefit might be mastering the piano in one’s spare time
- The growth of self image might be the transformation from a musical embarrassment to an accomplished (and admired) musician
- Provide a searing mental image of the customer kicking butt in the role they already desire to see themselves fulfilling. Make the customer the star, not the product.
Stay tuned for the follow-up post on how Temperament Affects Self-Image
A little late-Friday link love and interesting blog posts, videos, etc. Enjoy:
- Life Lessons from an Ad Man — If you’re involved in Marketing and Advertising in any way, I recommend this TED talk. Hat tip to John Morrow on tweeting this one.
- Google’s Time on Page is Wrong — This one is an eye opener and well worth the quick and well-illustrated read. Also, Click Tale has a free version of its software/service — get videos of visitor activity for free!
- Update — Here’s a Rebuttal to Click Tale’s claims by Brian Clifton, former head of Google Analytics, EMEA
- The Myth of the Page Fold — This one was sent to me by Bryan Eisenberg and it’s well worth reading.
- Eye Movement Analysis of Text-Based Web Page Layouts — Strictly for the hard-core web and user-testing geek.
- Call to Action Buttons: Examples and Best Practices — Smashing Magazine does a (characteristically) nice job of this one.
- The Sideways L: How to Use Misdirection to Make Your Readers Laugh — Copyblogger continues its long tradition of must-read content.
- Direct Mail: What REALLY Goes Through the Female Customer’s Mind — Michele Miller takes you through some women’s reactions to a Direct Mail piece making the rounds in Scottsdale, AZ. Get the brutal truth.
- Estee Lauder Creates a Powerful Social Media Campaign — My friend and former colleague, Holly Buchanan, discusses a Social Media Campaign worth watching and learning from. Feel free to add your own, must-read/view content in the comments.